Sony SmartWatch2.

Sony’s third try at a smart watch hits almost all the bases

Sony is no stranger to the concept of smart wearables. We’ve seen the Sony Ericsson LiveView (which is best forgotten by everyone) and the original SmartWatch introduced at CES in early 2012, which was a little bit better but suffered from connectivity issues. Their latest version, aptly (yet unimaginatively) dubbed the SmartWatch 2 has a history to build on, and to try and not repeat.

Wearables are going to be a lucrative business for the right people. We all saw how the Pebble ripped through its Kickstarter goals, so the desire is out there. It will take a company that can get the form and the function just right to steal it all. Could Sony have done it with the SmartWatch 2? Sales say no, but we all know that best selling doesn’t mean best. Hit the break, have a read, and see what you decide.

The Style

Sony SmartWatch2.

If any wearable device isn’t comfortable, and doesn’t look good to the wearer, it is destined to fail.

Sony hits the comfort mark very well here. The watch isn’t small by any means, checking in at 42mm square and 9mm thick, but it is very light and fits well. Anyone who has used a recent Xperia phone will recognize the design language here, flat front and back, graceful round corners and 90-degree angles where the sides meet. Crafted out of aluminum, the whole package feels rather nice, even if it’s too large for your tastes. On the other hand, if you’re used to 50mm and larger sport or designer watches, you won’t even notice this one on your wrist.

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The band itself is a plain Jane silicone strap in black. It complements the look and feel of the watch, and while not the most stylish option, silicone watch straps are very easy to wear. Because it uses standard 24mm attachment lugs, you can easily change things up with any strap or bracelet that’s the right size. A quick search of Amazon, or even your local big box store will turn up literally hundreds of options. For the review, I stuck with the supplied black silicone strap with its aluminum standard buckle. It’s not quite my style, but it looks good with the simple industrial design of the watch itself — at least to me it does.

And this is where things get a little less clear. How the SW2 looks on your wrist is something I can’t answer. Style and looks are very personal, and everyone has different tastes. It’s square, unassuming, and comfortable. Once we get past that, it’s all opinion. 

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I can give you mine, though. I still wear a watch on occasion, and some silly part of my brain makes me collect them. I’ve a few favorites, both expensive and not-so-expensive. None of them resemble the SW2. I don't favor square designs on my wrist, and given the choice I would prefer something similar to the cheap (the same price as the SW2, to be fair), but pretty watch you see above. Unfortunately, that design doesn't translate well into a touch screen device you wear on your wrist, so there’s a tradeoff to be made if you want the convenience of a wearable device, or just get a kick out of the cool factor. I’m willing to make it most of the time. Notifications of the things I feel are important are worth it. You have to decide if you feel the same.

Tag Heuer, please make a smart watch in 2014.

Specifications and hardware

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  • Compatibility: Works with Android smartphones running Android 4.0 or later
  • Battery life: Up to seven days of light use, three to four days of heavy use (times calculated with watch always on)
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Charging via microUSB
  • Water resistant IP57
  • 1.6-inch Transflective LCD at 220x176 pixels

In real world use I get about three days from one charge. Normally, I’m synchronized to my Moto X, and send SMS messages, Hangouts messages, Google+ notifications and calls to the SW2. Hangouts really give things a workout, as it’s our de-facto form of communication here at AC and hundreds and hundreds of messages are coming in every day. I also engage as much as i can on Google+, so it’s buzzing quite a bit, too. Now that the review is over I’ll scale back and remove the Google+ notifications, which is simple enough to do via an app on my phone. It was just a good way to test.

The screen is fair. The Transflective design (it uses ambient light to adjust contrast and reflects it back) is plenty visible, even in bright light, and in the dark a tap of the crown will fire up the backlight. The resolution is a little low, but I’m not watching movies on this tiny screen so I call it passable. The touch function has performed well, and things are responsive as expected. In fact, there's really no niggle over the hardware I can find to write about. It's solidly built, and everything it was advertised to do, it does well.

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This SW2 has taken quite a beating, and taken it well. I’m that type of guy who is sure he can fix his own toilet, or lawnmower, or chest freezer or anything else and not have to spend money. Of course in the end I spend more because I’ve made things worse, but I like to tinker with things. I’ve beat and banged this unit around, and it’s no worse for wear. We know that the SW2 is IP57 dust and water resistant, but the design and construction also do a good job keeping it free from damage.

The one thing I have to mention that's not positive isn't about the watch itself, it's about the software on your phone. The software is clear, easy to understand and does what it intends to do, but it can be a little buggy. On more than one occasion it has locked itself awake — sometimes thinking I've put the phone in a Sony smart dock accessory — ramped the processor up, and drained the battery down to the warning beep in under an hour. It did this before the recent update, and it still does it. For the curious, I tested with my Moto X (Android 4.2.2) and with the Nexus 4 (Android 4.3). I see this issue on both phones.

Function

Apps

Enough about how it looks and how it works. Let’s talk about what it can do. There’s an operating system installed on the SW2, presumably Android, but just about everything is done via your smartphone. Using the Sony Smart Connect application, you can install “modules” for things like Sony smart docks, chargers and of course the SW2. It’s through this portal that you’ll install and set things up on your phone.

A quick look in Google Play will show you that there are a couple hundred apps compatible with the SW2. Ranging from things like call and message handlers to a Snake clone (remember those BREW games?), some work very nicely while others will be quickly uninstalled. it’s the same as Google Play in general, and we can’t expect every app to be a gem.

Sony themselves offer some in-house apps for the SW2, and they all work well enough. You’ll find apps for Gmail, standard POP3 email, Twitter, messaging and more, and most of what you need will be covered. Being “mostly” good is never good enough, so there are also apps that will intercept any notification (yes, I can make my watch tell me that I updated Chrome in Google Play) and forward them to your wrist. Some are free, some aren’t. I tried them all, and have to give Watch Notifier ($1.79 in Google Play) the nod. I normally would never drop an app recommendation in a review, but for me, this app is what makes the SW2 worth using. Without it, some notifications are missing, and I found it to be the most consistent of all the apps I tried.

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One noticeable omission is user-installed watch faces. A selection of five are included — four analog in both black or white, and with and without a date window, and one digital. Other watch face apps you’ll find in Google play are really more like widgets, and are displayed only when open and running on the watch. It seems developers are not given access to the default screen, which is a shame.

Navigation of the UI is simple, and familiar to most anyone with an Android. Tap the home button to zip away from the watch screen and get to your installed apps, pull the notification shade down to check missed notifications, and use the three-dot menu key anytime you’re in an app and think you should see more. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, nor should there be — this is an accessory, and one where simplicity is key. Sony is on the right track here, mimicking the Android UI but keeping it simple. They just need a bit more refinement and polish of the interface to make it look less clunky. 

The verdict

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As a watch junkie of sorts, I seem to be collecting the "popular" models. That’s currently a short list, but we certainly expect it to grow. Without taking any other model into consideration, I think the SW2 is priced a bit too high to recommend. Currently $200 at Amazon, the price is a bit too steep for what it can do — the same as all the current smart watches. The tech just isn't there yet, at least not at $200. Maybe Kit Kat and Google's rumored watch can fix this.

If you’re not afraid to spend a little more than you should — and I’m certainly guilty often enough — and are in the market for a smart watch, I would still have to recommend the Pebble. It may not look as nice, and it’s not water "dust-resistant", but it’s developer-friendly, gets better battery life, and does the basics as good as the SW2 for a few dollars less.

If you’re a fan of the SW2, and I know there are plenty out there, you’re probably preparing to tell me what I didn’t consider or what I forgot. Likely, I’m guilty of both on some level, but to me, until someone gets it right, the SW2 doesn’t offer enough to recommend, and the cheapest alternative is the best alternative until we see a smart watch that hits all the bases.

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Reader comments

Sony SmartWatch2 review

76 Comments

Nice write up. Very helpful review. I've been in the process of looking for a smartphone watch. I'll continue to be patient and wait for the Google Kitkat watch

I'm looking forward to this watch. I have the original and it meets all my needs but I would rather have the better looking of the two as well as the USB charger

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Well, after last SONY participation in patent trolling I will not buy any of Sony's product again, even if these cover all the bases....

So you won't go watch any Sony Picture movies (Columbia Pictures, TriStar, Sony Pictures Animation, 20th Century Fox just to name a few) Sony Music (Columbia Records, Epic Records and RCA Records) or anything? You are really taking yourself out of a lot of good entertainment my friend which is really sad.. All those are at least eighth of the movies that are released any given year and a quarter of all music..

Regardless, I've been looking at these but I'm afraid it's a more of a luxury item at this point.. Especially at the price point they are at at around 150-300 dollars. If I was going to spend that much for a watch I would probably spring for a Tag Hauer or Citizen watch.. But that's just me..

Pretty messed up that sony uses android on its phones and is not included in the patent trolling, How "Convenient." Every other manufacturer except for the Axis of Rockstar is in it. I too will be boycotting anything from those companies, time to learn ubuntu for my PC.

This is going to be the biggest trial of the decade, and following its outcome, if anything good comes from it, will hopefully change the broken patent system in the US. The only reason the patent system is in a state of "Fail" is because companies make more money with a broken system. The only way to change it would be for the corporate lobbyist to push for a change, and corporations like it in this state. Developed for the little guy and completely abused and manipulated for corporations, like everything else. Wish we had the regulations that Canada has implemented in their capitalist society. Of all the countries in the world, the economic breakdown didn't even phase Canada with their heavily regulated industries. Maybe its time to petition WH petition site and get a response from our president for some changes.

i like mine to far, its not AMAZING but it is pretty great :)

helps me see notifications without looking at my phone in meetings

Hello,
thanks a lot for this very nice and helpful review, but there's a mistake:
The pebble IS water resistant to 5atm (about 50m underwater).

I'm curious as to why its not dust resistant and it is water resistant. I work in a wood working shop and this now worries me. Could you link me to some info on this? I checked on their website and couldn't find anything on dust, only water.

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Thanks for the helpful review...I'm another fencesitter that will wait to see what google themselves has to offer...

>"Maybe Kit Kat and Google's rumored watch can fix this."

Knowing Google, it will be something that creates privacy issues and is neon pink or green or orange plastic or something. Then again, who knows. But I have my hopes pinned on the Omate for now.

Not really. It is what I really believe. I expect the same outcome with Apple. The best solutions are likely to come out from other parties (like Sony or maybe HTC), although they will likely not be the most popular. It is nice to have competition.

Come on Jerry, you really don't think the watch exists? Will you publish a retraction from this comment in a couple weeks?

I've been a backer on this project. They are likely to ship a little late. I just got my shipping survey (meaning they are finalizing the _what_ to ship) this morning and I expect I'll see a shipping notice in a couple weeks.

As far as lying? Well, I personally don't think they have. Your comment centers around Google play services. I think they were overly optimistic and when it wasn't going to happen, they said as much.

Not sure what you've got against Omate; but you are not doing your readers a service by dismissing this watch.

No, they said it will have the Google Play store. It will not. That's a lie. 

They didn't say they were trying, or that it might happen, they showed pictures of it running the Play Store to get more backing. 

I would be doing a disservice by pretending they didn't lie to get more funding.

So like I said, in my opinion this Omate watch doesn't exist. I don't care what happens to them, or their product. That's my right. You can feel however you like. 

I read up on their forums and it seems like an honest mistake on their part- they believed they would get official Play support, but it looks like it might not happen (and certainly hasn't yet). It still says "Omate TrueSmart ships with Google Play Apps Store" on the Kickstarter page but they might not be able to remove that now. But it shouldn't have been posted without KNOWING it would happen. They could have said "We expect to have Google Play Store support" or something more qualified.

It is true that until they ship something, it doesn't exist as a product. Doesn't mean we can't hope and be excited about it, though. I believe their product will hold less value and convenience without Play support, although even without it (assuming the Omate does come to market) it is still hugely more advanced than anything we have seen in the watch space so far.... full stand-alone and/or collaborative device, scratch resistant lens, 3G data and calling, SD card, camera, far more RAM and CPU, GPS, vibe, WiFi, Bluetooth, speaker/mic, Gsensor, etc. Lots of Android devices have no Play support and do OK with their own "stores" (Amazon tablets, Ouya, for example).

I am concerned from what I have seen that they have missed their first shipping target already...

Jerry,

I would have expected you to understand what Kickstarter was a bit better than you do. Difference between a lie and being wrong. I understand that the difference may be lost.

Update #50 on the Omate kickstater page describes what they are trying to do to fix the Google Play Services. So, you've made an assertion that is just plain wrong and you are actually doing a disservice by misrepresenting the facts.

I agree you have a right to have an opinion, but you are a quasi-journalist and when you state something as fact; 'They lied' (meaning you have some kind of proof of intent), your statement carries a bit more weight.

I have tried to see the point of Smart Watches, but so far they all seem a bit pointless. However I do wear things that really are pointless and like them - perhaps the right one will turn up one day.

Awesome A C

I agree, but somehow I am expecting Google or Apple to make something so damn sexy and useful that I will have to get one. Google's minimalist designs have turned me into a super fanboy as of late.

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Jerry, if i read this right you said that the pebble is not water resistant, but it is. Its rated at 5 ATM. I'm sure that you already knew that but just letting you know.

Edit.. someone already caught it.

I'm hoping Google will just open up another layout bucket so we can design our apps to scale to smart watches without having to provide a separate app (in fact, I'm almost positive they will, since that is Android's bread and butter). I keep trying to think of good app ideas so I don't miss the boat...

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I'm sorry but I'm just not understanding your conclusion. From what I read I thought that the SW2 was far more durable and resilient than the Pebble with a better looking screen. But you say that that isn't worth an extra $50. Seeing that the SW2 has reasonable battery life I'm left wondering why these benefits aren't worth anything at all. The only thing I can figure is that you find all smartwatches are overpriced to begin with.

I've been wearing the Pebble longer, and it has less scratches than the SW2. The durability of the Pebble wasn't discussed.

The Pebble also has longer battery life with the same notifications enabled. 

It's my opinion that if you need to buy a smart watch right now, get the one that is just as functional, cheaper, more-development friendly, and open source — the Pebble.

Ok thank you for the extra information. I had no idea that the Pebble was that durable. I have never heard of it described that way. I guess in that case the general look of them and the difference in eink to color screen is the only real advantage then. $50 might seem like a bit to much for that for many. I don't find the development to be an issue seeing the SW2 has apps that were built for Sony's earlier versions. I also think 3 days of heavy use is enough at least for me. There was no way they were going to be able to beat an eink screen for battery life.

No problem. That's why we're here.

And getting the one you like the looks of is the most important thing to consider. Between the Pebble and the SW2, they are about equally useful. Both can and will give you any notification you want. Both are built thin and light. I'm just forced to make a call, and in general saving $50 is always a good thing. :)

Well, I'm using this watch fpr about 2 weeks now and I think it's great. The only thing I'd like to add to this article is that two more apps can send notifications to your watch:
- Wristn: uses NotificationListenerService (good for your battery)
- WatchIt: uses Accessibility service

I'm pretty sure the pebble is water resistant. Also, Qualcomm needs to release one and show up everybody.

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With them all next to each other in the last photo, the Galaxy Gear Smartwatch design is more appealing to me. Unfortunately, I'm not using or planning to purchase a Samsung phone. Too bad the Gear isn't non-Samsung Android compatible, instead.

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Great review, you covered everything I was curious about. The only thing is that the pebble is definitely waterproof. They even encourage you to use it while swimming. Other then that very well written.

thanks for the very thoughtful review, jerry. i love reviews that take more of a "how it works in real life" rather than "tech spec" approach.

if the Galaxy Gear wasn't locked to Samsung, it would be on my wrist right now. i own a Note 3 but i might not always be on sami.

i'm hoping the pebble goes on sale (black friday?) soon. it sounds like that may fill the void until... google's smartwatch is released. ;)

Sony & Google - please put at least a microphone on the watches so we can record verbal notes that can be played back on the linked device.

It is a shame indeed... I saying that, my son is 4 and wears a watch, can tell the time in Analogue, and pines for his watch... I've always worn a watch myself and it's the most efficient way to tell time. I can stand seeing people reach for their phone in their pocket, press the power button on their phone etx just to tell time. Watches are glassy too... nothing beats a good time piece on ones wrist.

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Ok, no matter what everyone else thinks.. The galaxy gear is the best smartwatch out. The design is definitely better than any other smartwatch. Please try them for urself. Well, at least that's my opinion.

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I have two huge problems with the Gear:

Of the 400 or so currently supported Android phones, it only works on two.

Unless you use the apps Samsung wants you to use, your notification tells you to check your phone.

Both these are things I can't get past.

In xda they mentioned some parts work with the htc one and nexus who knows exatcly which non samsung phones will work with it once they are all 4.3 and with the proper tweaking.. Also an xda member has built an app for most notifications

Doesn't the Gear just tell you to check your phone whereas the Pebble and the SW2 actually show you the text, email, etc? That alone makes the Gear a fail. Add the fact it only works with a couple of phones and that it's too expensive and it's no contest regardless of aesthetics.

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The Gear is the most stylish, that said this wearable tech namely the smartwatch has a bit to go before it becomes appealing if it ever does.

Perhaps with the introduction of the flexible displays can muster up something that appeals and is functional to the masses.

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These smartwatches remind me of when they used to make terrible super hero movies with crap actors - like the 1980's Captain America.

They need to shoehorn a computer into an existing watch - not make some robot tech terminator strap-on.

I'm almost as annoyed at these things as Jerry was about smartphones cameras.

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That was on my list of things to complain about when I first got started. but after using it, there was no real battery drain (when the app on the phone was running normally) and I had zero connection issues with the watch while using the older 3.0 BT stack. 

BTLE is nice, for sure, but in this application there didn't appear to be a need. And by using BT 3, it's compatible with a lot more Android devices.

i really hate that they left out the watch face that's on the box itself, according to Sony Xperia webcare, only test units had this watch face

this is the one i'm talking about:
http://www.senshispeed.nl/pic/sw2box.jpg

if only we could design our own watch faces....

another problem is the screen timeout, it's too short
i think it should be selectable

I like my Pebble! They put a Bluetooth 4.0 chip in it too so that it can just be activated through an update. Its a simple smart watch, but I feel that it has a lot of potential. I'm also thinking of buying this one too.

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Well, I had the older Sony Smartwatch. I was OK with it, even though the reviews said DON'T BUY. That watch was OK, but the plastic cabinet was fragile, and the oddball charge connector was a constant headache.
Two weeks back I order this watch. I wanted the larger always on display. I really was liking it, then poof. So back it goes and I wait. I'm sure 'll like it, but such an early failure is disappointing.
Sorry, I just don't care for the look of the Pebble. And a cowork has one which has failed twice now in the five or so months that he has had it..

Good job Gerry. Thanks for the review.

I own a Sony SW2 and I think it's a better value if you compare the current functionality and compatibility of the Galaxy Gear, so I am very happy with it.

You eluded to the sales of the unit suggest it's had poor sales. I would argue that is all due to Sony's poor decision to basically not advertise it. No one knows it's out there. I've never seen television commercials, print or online ads or any real mention of it the Sony SW2. I only stumbled across it by doing a smart watch search on Amazon. I wonder if Sony was reluctant to try and compete head to head with Samsung in the wearable device category for whatever reason.

Personally, I think the Sony SW2 is very good at what it does and when compared to the Pebble and Galaxy Gear devices, it's price and design comes in at a happy medium.

Thanks for the review Gerry - does the SW2 have the same issue as the original SW that it can't read Exchange emails unless you use it with a Sony Smartphone via Sony's email client? Was kind of a deal breaker for me with the first Sony SW.

Also, you really need to get a Martian watch, if only for comparison's sake.

I have two - a black/orange face Passport with a leather strap and an all-black Victory with the silicon band. The Passport has a more classic look with the square/silver case but the black on black Victory is just damn cool :)

The Martian watch looks like one of the most primitive watches out there from a technological standpoint (no touchscreen, no phone, no GPS, no apps, no camera, a one-line display). And at $300, it is not exactly a bargain.

But its incredibly functional, at least for my use case, which is any notification that I want sent to my watch so I don't have to pull my phone out of my pocket. The single Martian app you run on your phone lets you turn on/off notifications for ANY app on your device, and the hands-free speakerphone functionality is surprisingly useful (both for answering/taking calls and asking Google Now questions).

It's not perfect; I'd like the text to either scroll a lot faster than the current "fastest" setting or have it "roll" up line by line (would be quicker to read), and its limited in its interactions, but if you want an analog look, there's no substitute for a real analog watch face :)

I like your watch, Jerry. I'm fairly partial to Invictas, and I've bought several when I've seen them on deep sale (which is pretty damn frequently, actually).

Maybe just one picture with an incoming message notification? you know, showing off the capabilities of this "smart watch?!?!?!?!"

The software on my phone doesn't lock up me at all like you describe. HTC One, had the software installed on 4.1 and the 4.3 updates with no issues. Just an FYI.

The software on my phone doesn't lock up me at all like you describe. HTC One, had the software installed on 4.1 and the 4.3 updates with no issues. Just an FYI.

I have an SW2 - NZ only get the unit with the metal strap which is nice, and it works very well. My dream would be if Sony were able to put the guts of this watch - and screen, into the chassis of the MBW-100.

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Why doesn't anyway talk about the AGENT smartwatch? I mean, other than the fact that it's not out now given the options I would think people would at least talk about it a little. It could be out by the end of this year. It was a Kickstarter project. It seems similar to the Pebble with arguably a better look and I think some newer/more advanced hardware. It may have better battery life then the Pebble and it has wireless charging with I think is a great move for a smartwatch.
http://agentwatches.com/
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/secretlabs/agent-the-worlds-smartest...

Had never heard of the AGENT watch (always surprises me when I hear of another one of these!). I agree it looks like a more stylish Pebble with Qi wireless charging (very cool). But the watch in this type of category I'm most interested in at this point is the Toq from Qualcomm; I think color screens are the next important step for wearables (just like it was for PDAs, flip phones, etc.).

I think the writer is being biased here.. I just don't understand how everyone wants to complement pebble so much. If I'm not wrong pebble doesn't have a touch screen while SW2 is very responsive to touch and it's second generation touch making even more smooth. I have used SW1 and I know how elegant it is over the pebble and now calling the successor overpriced is a bit too hard to digest. Id instead commend the SW2 to be the most reasonably priced smartwatch in the market but it needs more marketing from Sony to justify the same..